The cognoscenti showed up for the Gabriel Orozco retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art Tuesday night, with justification, because Orozco is a master of form and message.
His subject is globalization, the space between art and life in which late capitalism harnessed the 90 percent of the world below the poverty line to feed its upper-class needs and instead created fissures and anomalies which Orozco exploits to the hilt. At MoMA is his famous Citroën car, sliced in half with the middle removed to make it a beautiful useless bauble.
A brand new piece, a giant pink elephant’s foot studded with glass eyeballs, mocks the carbon footprint with which the developed world dominates the great unwashed. A gorgeous table of clay pieces and pottery, a kind of self-retrospective which Gabriel fabricated a few years back, mocks the assumptions of first- world tourists who buy things from the poor for their utilitarianism, a nice pot for oranges or a vase for flowers, as all of Orozco"s objects are decidedly broken, nonfunctional bits of surrealism.
Even Duchamp would envy Gabe"s gentle touch, the two-tailed bit of fired clay, the skull decorated in checkerboard squares which is a metaphor for statist manipulation, the shrunken soccer ball kicked around to symbolize the poor and unrepresented. There is something in this show called a spume, which looks like pieces of a pterodactyl, and a stunning flying fossil hanging in MoMA"s atrium, which manages to subtly mock the Museum of Natural History, its dinosaur collection and the hanging whale in its foyer.
Of secondary concern are Orozco"s two-dimensional works, including his early manipulations of currency and his telephone-book abstractions of Japanese scrolls. I complained to David Ebony of Art in America: that this was another example of MoMA curator Ann Temkin’s "completism," but he said, "Charlie, this show is as tight as a drum," pointing out a frieze of photos in which two orange motorbikes court each other and reproduce, as if to say, "those poor people, always copulating when they should be manufacturing commodities."
This is nuanced show of range and power. To bar the wealthy from it would make it all complete.
"Gabriel Orozco," Dec. 13, 2009-Mar. 1, 2010, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).